Bounce-Back Resilience. Or, When You Are Going Through Hell, Keep Going!
(Trigger warning – trauma, childbirth)
My Story of Bounce-Back Resilience
Bounce-back Resilience. Words hacked around and much over-used. So to bring them to life, here’s my personal, real, story.
Going Through Hell
Resilience, to me, is best described by Winston Churchill – “If you’re going through Hell, keep going!” Keep on going. For goodness sake, don’t stop and stay stuck there!
I have ended up with a strange kind of respect for the Hell I went through. Its actually gratitude, for some of the toughest and hardest days of my life.
You see, if I hadn’t had the worst day, I’d never have had the happiest! Even writing this, tears tears of happiness and deep gratefulness have been rolling down my cheeks.
The Worst Day
Not only did I suffer horrible maternal injuries during the extremely traumatic birth of my daughter, but she almost died. (I covered this in an earlier blog, here.) Parts of my mind were forever stuck in that room, frozen in time, feeling my mind actually give way. Terrified. There were many times in those dark months, days and years to follow, when I was caught in a endless cycle of flashbacks, fears, frozen numbness, and rage.
Get Over Myself
Time passed. We were beginning to realise that our eldest had an incurable condition and was very ill. We did not know if her condition was genetic, and if other siblings could be at risk. Yet I was nearly 40 years old, time was running out. I was terrified that if I went through that experience again, that my mind would break and not recover. Literally. That I would crumble and be gone. And yet, we held out hope that a healthy sibling could, in future, provide a cure for our eldest. Hope, if nothing else, that our wee family could be the vibrant, happy unit we had dreamed of. If we wanted a sibling… I had to get over it.
Acceptance… and Commitment
I felt brittle, shattered. And gradually I learnt to soften. To give myself over to what had happened. Step by step, I surrendered, like a tree to a storm. I crept towards acceptance.
Shit had happened – so what!? If I could accept that awful day, could I get it to release it’s hold on the rest of my life? If I could stir myself to lift my head and believe, was something else possible? So, even in Hell, I kept on going, holding on to the glimpse of a brighter future. I was committed to something better, even when it looked impossible.
The Happiest Day
Then, 3 years (minus 2 days) after my worst day, came my happiest day. This was a planned Caesarean, designed to be diametrically different in every way. There were long delays from overnight emergencies, and as my husband and I waited, we fell silent, wondering if I would be going home again that night, still pregnant. But the wonderful team at Salisbury Hospital pulled out all the stops.
Rummaging in My Pocket
Having a Caesarean is a funny old thing. I could feel what’s going on, but no pain. It’s like someone was rummaging in my pocket for my keys! I wanted to see the moment of the birth, which meant dropping the strip of surgical cloth draped across my chest to protect the sterile area. It’s very strange demarcation line because the distance between my chest area and my pelvic area is only about a foot!
Breaking 1000 Rules!
Suddenly the surgeon announced “Quick! Drop that screen”, and my eyes swivelled right down to try and see. There, exploding out of my tummy was this amazing baby, so full of life. (Now if anybody’s met her ever since, you will chuckle with recognition, because to this day she explodes through any barriers in her way!) She kind of leapt into the surgeon’s arms, who gasped “Oh my goodness, this is a big baby”, and I laughed – tell me about it! I reached forward and touched her; still half inside me.
I knew her intimately, from carrying her for nine months, and yet she was a stranger. I connected to her. She was warm, wet, pink and full of life. There was muffled, restrained, consternation in the room. A very British objection to the fact that my non-sterile hand had got itself into the sterile zone. I knew I was breaking 1000 rules, and for once in my life, I didn’t care. That brief, fleeting contact with her skin, is immediately rememberable for me. The cord was cut and she was taken to be dried and checked.
They thrust her right next to my face. I had drips in me, the surgical team were sewing me up, the area was very cramped and so they just shoved her face next to my face, kind of upside down. Although she had been crying, suddenly she stopped. I kissed her, I breathed her in, and I gave her name to her. Even in all the bustle, peace dropped like a curtain.
Waiting later for the porter to come and wheel me back to the ward, baby was lying on me, and I was very unsure what to do next. I explained to the midwife “I have an older daughter, but she was too sick to feed. I can work breast pump, but I don’t know how to feed a baby, can you help me?” She did that amazing thing midwives do. She grabbed baby in one hand, boob in the other, and quick as a flash, connected the two. Everyday Magic.
Out of My Body
Suddenly I was floating, high above our bodies. I was up near the ceiling, watching myself below, swooping with happiness and joy. It is outside the words that I have available to explain it. Into the middle of this trancelike experience, the porter suddenly arrived, and solemnly pushed us down the corridor. It dawned on me that this euphoria was connected to the breastfeeding. It continued for about 2 hours like this.
Sheer Unbridled Joy
It was sheer, unbridled, physical and mental joy, relief and happiness. The purity of that moment stays with me to this day, and it will go with me to my grave.
Bounce-Back Resilience is Surviving a Storm, Stronger than Before
Resilience is hard work. But it is not the rock-solid resistance of a building. My favourite metaphor is the tree that has blown so violently over in the storm, that it is almost bent double. After the storm, you wonder if it is still alive, and will it ever stand tall again. Over time, you notice the tree is changing. Its not the same as before, but it’s also definitely a tree again, standing tall. Even when you feel beaten to the ground, you can learn, grow, and strengthen, from the experience.
Psychologists consider this type of recovery resilience to be ‘an individual’s ability to adapt to and recover from stressful situations, trauma, and hardship’ (Ungar, 2012, cited in Thompson & Dobbins, 2018. p.2.).
The Best Thing that Happened
Not only was this my happiest day, but it brought more healing than I ever imagined. At age 4, this baby became a superhero bone-marrow donor to her big sister. They were an incredible 10/10 match (chances of this are lower than 25%). It is not a cure. But a genuinely life-changing experience for us all.
Healing and Zest for Life
Bouncing back from my worst day, I didn’t know I was creating my best day. I just knew I had to keep on going. I can look back now and see this was the pivotal moment when I healed, and re-connected with my zest for life. It became important, thrilling even, for me to live my life to the full again. Now I’m highly trained and accredited (read more here), so I can help others too. Clients come to me realising they have been broken down by life, and I help them bounce back stronger and wiser than before.
Bounce-back resilience can go hand in hand with Post-Traumatic Growth. Yet it can feel elusive, like quicksilver. When you reach too hard for it, it slips out of reach. It is different for everyone, and no-one can tell you how long it will take. I write this to give you courage; that if you find yourself in Hell, keep going.
Only, for dear sake, don’t be like me, and do it without professional help! I could have saved myself endless time, money, and heartache.
Get in touch if this is you – your happy ending is closer than you dare to believe.
P.S – Evidence-Based Research
If you follow me, you’ll know I work from a Positive Psychology and Coaching Psychology evidence base. My research on resilience has been published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Positive Psychology and you can read it here.